Analysis: Crash Grosjean shows that Formula 1 needs to become even safer | NOW

Romain Grosjean survived one of the worst accidents in recent Formula 1 history on Sunday. The Frenchman especially thanked the halo for saving his life. Still, lessons need to be learned from the Bahrain crash.

“The guardrail should not fail in such a way”, Sebastian Vettel stated after the race. The German had only briefly looked at the images of Grosjean’s crash. “I didn’t really want to see it,” he admitted. Yet he immediately saw that things could be better. “The car should not be able to catch fire in such a way.”

Grosjean can miraculously retell how he torpedoed the crash barrier shortly after the start at 221 kilometers per hour. His car broke in two, with the survival cell in which the 34-year-old driver was tied up, drilled through the crash barrier.

It was accompanied by a large fireball, from which Grosjean escaped after half a minute. His team Haas registered a hit from 53G in the car’s telemetry.

As Grosjean’s car pierced the guardrail, the halo probably pushed the top part up, preventing it from hitting the Frenchman’s helmet. (Photo: ANP)

Everyone is a halo fan, but more needs to be done

It quickly became apparent from the footage that the halo may have prevented fatal injuries by protecting Grosjean’s helmet from parts of the crash barrier. The upper part of the iron elements was bent upwards by it.

Safety in Formula 1 has made enormous strides in recent decades, with the halo as the largest visual intervention. Not everyone was in favor of the introduction of the bumper bar in 2018, but now most drivers – including Grosjean – belong to the fan club.

Still, further steps can be taken, starting with the crash barrier. According to Ross Brawn, who is in charge of Formula 1 technical management, all crash barriers must be carefully checked before driving again in Bahrain next week. “If it turns out that something needs to be done, we will do it immediately,” he explained to the camera on Sunday Sky Sports from. “The safety measures on the circuits are exceptional, but today something happened that we did not expect.”

It is not the first time this century that a car has gone through the crash barrier. It happened to Scotsman Allan McNish for example in 2002 at Suzuka. In the bloody 103R corner, he lost control of his Toyota and went backwards through the security wall. Carlos Sainz (in Sochi) and Kimi Räikkönen (at Silverstone) later had less serious but similar incidents.

The nose of Carlos Sainz ‘Toro Rosso, despite Tecpro cushions, still crashed into the crash barrier in 2015. (Photo: ANP)

Is the guardrail still of this time?

The new incident with Grosjean should make the FIA ​​wonder whether the guardrail is still of this time. If the car passes through, the steel parts can do more damage than prevent. Such a part could have hit Grosjean himself or prevented him from leaving the car.

Certainly without tire stacks or ‘Tecpro barriers’ (collection cushions) in front, this risk seems great. The cushions proved another service in Sochi to Formula 2 drivers Luca Ghiotto and Jack Aitken this year, by taking the blows in their heavy crash.

Now these cushions or tire stacks are usually in places where crashes are more likely, but Sunday’s accident just showed that it can happen anywhere. And that there should no longer be a bare guardrail anywhere.

Formula 2 driver Luca Ghiotto walked away unharmed after a hard blow to the Tecpro cushions in Sochi this year. (Photo: Formula 2)

Different requirements for correct barrier along the track

The right barrier next to the track is a difficult puzzle. The first goal is of course to reduce the impact of a crash, but a car should not get buried under tires or cushions. And at the same time, a race car should not be able to bounce back too much on the track, or get caught in it.

Anthoine Hubert did not survive a serious Formula 2 accident at Spa in 2019 because his car came back from the tire stack after a crash and was subsequently torpedoed by Juan Manuel Correa. It is almost impossible to always have the right barrier in the right place, because the cars do not always enter it from the same angle.

Conflagrations are rare, but must be avoided

The conflagration that started on Sunday will also draw the attention of the FIA. Crashes with fire rarely occur in motorsport, but on Sunday it became clear again why drivers are dressed from head to toe in fire-retardant clothing. Still, Formula 1 prefers that the fire extinguishers can remain closed during a race, so lessons must be learned from the Grosjean crash.

“The fuel cell is very strong, so I think a connection must have been torn somewhere,” Brawn carefully analyzed on Sunday. The petrol tank in a Formula 1 car is not really a tank, but a bag of lightweight and strong composite material that itself is almost impossible to pierce. Still, a fire started, possibly caused by parts of the car’s electrical propulsion system breaking loose and sparking the spilled gasoline.

If the latter turns out to be the case, the FIA ​​will undoubtedly come up with additional measures to prevent a recurrence. Grosjean was lucky to stay conscious and free himself as a result. We will not discuss a scenario in which he had been unconscious between the flames in his car.

The FIA ​​will analyze the Frenchman’s crash extensively in the near future, as if it were a major plane crash. Grosjean’s car is extensively examined. What exactly did it fail and why? “It is in itself intended that security measures in such an incident should fail in a certain order, but now it happened in a surprising way,” said Brawn, who spoke of a “deep analysis” that must take place.

Numerous other crashes have also been analyzed in this way, before the controversial halo appeared on the cars in 2018. And so also from Grosjean’s crash must come new improvements. Formula 1 is safe, but it can always be even safer.

“We hadn’t had a crash with a fire for a long time”, Ross Brawn also stated. (Photo: ANP)


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